Articles and stories on the history and people of The Demon Archives world.

27

Nov 2017

A Life In Whispers – Part 1

Posted by / in Lore / 15 comments

Autonomous Covert Operations Field Report [A-COFR-TDU]

Report Number: 078

UFPT

182237EFEB04

Reporting Unit: Agent N03 {Nightshade}

ATTN: [email protected]

 

Good evening. Please, get comfortable and settle in for another of my long-winded sitreps. I find that I don’t write much anymore, except for these reports. Perhaps it means I’ve become more comfortable with my own thoughts and I no longer need to let them out like pus from a mad hot blister. Or perhaps I’m simply too busy, too focused on my work to write for pleasure or for therapy. Regardless, even though the need for release isn’t there, the habit is stitched too deeply into my flesh to ever fully extract. I suppose if you asked me about my favorite food, you would get five thousand words in response.

My words, of course, will outlive me – I learned that long ago. Considering the life I live and the job I perform, I have no illusions about how much longer I have left. If the rest of my truncated life must be told in whispers to you, sir, then I intend to Speak them with all the strength that’s in me. This isn’t so much an apology as it is a disclaimer. And if this report seems unusually meditative and verbose, even for me, then that’s because I am about to do something incredibly dangerous.

For the past month, I’ve been gathering intel for my dossier on the Neo-Russian Federation, starting in the buffer zone between our territory and theirs. The communities in northern Kyrgyzstan don’t care much for either of us, and I hadn’t gathered much data of use until this morning. I was pushing closer to NRF territory, sleeping off a long day of travel.

Before dawn, at around 0330, the infrared proximity alarms went off in my tent. The loud bastards I use as my last line of defense. An injection of pure adrenaline rushed up my body and I had to fight the urge to sit up. All three alarms, which meant multiple intruders from all directions. They’d missed the turrets, they’d missed the trip wires. How had they missed the turrets? Or rather, how had the turrets missed them?

I slowly, quietly rolled over and slipped on my goggles. The HUD told me that all six of my perimeter turrets were offline. I didn’t understand how that could be possible. They’re keyed to human biomass and they open fire at eight metres. Plus – and you know this – their armour is thick enough to deflect at least a couple rounds from almost any pre-war firearm. If the intruders had somehow spotted them in the grass and tried to pick them off at long range, the turrets would have at least lasted long enough to trigger the alarm before going down.

I didn’t process all of this at the time. I’ve had a day for my brain to catch up. All I knew was that there were intruders circling me, closing in on my exact location, despite the fact that I was laying in an opticamo tent in a ditch in a field in the middle of nothing and nowhere, and no one – not even you – knew I would be there.

I rolled over on my back and unholstered my sidearm. The sides of the ditch were obscuring my vision, so I switched my goggles to ultrasonic and got a ghostly picture of five hunched shapes advancing on my tent. I’d chosen to settle in a ditch for the low profile and protection from the strong valley wind, which tends to cock up the opticamo. Of course, my invisible tent was likely useless based on the confident and steady approach my visitors were taking, and all the ditch really afforded me was a pre-made grave to lie in.

My AUV was parked at the mouth of the ditch, about thirty metres north of my position. I didn’t see anyone near the vehicle, and I had both my scout rifle and Tom Fury stowed there. My only chance was to distract them, sprint down the ditch, and re-arm at the AUV. I’d slept in my plugsuit, but I didn’t have time to put my armour on. The five spectral hunters were mounting the lip of the ditch on both sides, crouched in firing stances. Three of them crept shoulder to shoulder on the west side of the ditch, and the other two took up positions on the east. My pistol suddenly seemed like a pitiful distraction. I could kill one, two at most, before the others would tear me apart.

I had a last second idea that most likely saved my life. I didn’t have time to put on my armour, but I could still pick up and fire the incendiary dart launcher in my gauntlet. Whether they were using conventional night vision or a more sophisticated detection system to see through my camo, the new white phosphorus rounds would almost certainly blind them and obscure my escape with smoke.

The intruders had stopped creeping. They were settling in to open fire. I was out of time. I rolled onto my chest, scooped up the wrist launcher, aimed it up and pressed the trigger. The dart ripped through the tent. I don’t know where it landed, because I was up and sprinting out of the tent before the WP warhead went off. There was a half second of gunfire, then a flash, the hiss of white phosphorus, and a man screamed. It was a melting-flesh sort of scream, so I knew I’d not just distracted them, but incapacitated one as well.

A leaden flood of bullets rushed through the ditch behind me. Even though I was running in the dark, functionally naked and caught off guard like I haven’t been in years, I was still calm and detached enough to recognize that there was something very wrong with the sound of the gunfire pursuing me. It was a high-pitched, powerful whine, thudding heavy caliber slugs like enraged fists into the dirt around me. No wasteland bandit or clan footsoldier should have firepower like that.

That was as far as my train of thought went before I reached the end of the ditch and the dry creek bed where I’d parked my AUV. My goggles were still calibrated for ultrasonics, so I rather embarrassingly slammed hip first into the hidden bonnet of my vehicle. The gunfire behind me had become sparse, and now I heard crunching footfalls and skittering rocks as my pursuers sought a better firing angle.

I climbed up and over the AUV and threw back the opticamo, exposing the railgun slotted into the driver’s side holster. I clutched Tom Fury to my chest like a long lost and long beloved pet, though I didn’t waste any time snatching the flechette barrel and the ammo drum from the side compartment.

You asked for a field test of the flechette components, so I’m about to get a bit clinical for the sake of our Glaucus engineers. I’d just like to add before I continue that, from a moral standpoint, I think this attachment should be abolished and never used again, by myself or anyone else. You know that I would not make such a suggestion lightly. Just don’t mistake my detachment for approval.

The barrel itself is so long as to be unwieldy, but the twist-and-snap fit onto the rail gun is simple and effective. Even under duress, it only took a second to assemble. The ammo drum is clumsier, and the connector slot is too small for fast conversion under fire. It took me three tries to hook the drum into the rail gun, and another second to load. Trajectory sensors switched over immediately; instead of the thin line present in sniper mode, my goggles showed a wide cone.

I used the bonnet of the AUV for stability, but the nonexistent recoil made this unnecessary. The intruders were gathered at the edge of the ditch, where the ground sloped down into the creek bed. They were firing at my AUV, chewing through the chassis with startling ease. After a half-second windup in which I was almost shot in the head, the barrel began to spit an ultra high velocity cloud of metal slivers at 5,000 RPM. I caught two at once with the initial salvo. In the darkness, all I could see were flecks shredded from their heads and arms. They wore thick Kevlar body armour, but the flechettes penetrated it front and back. The men did not collapse immediately, but their aim became extremely erratic and they fired their remaining rounds into the dirt before collapsing backwards.

I let go of the trigger to swivel toward the other two attackers, but the flechettes continued to fire for a half second afterward. Possibly the magnetic coils taking time to spool down. Could be inconvenient if ammo becomes an issue. I don’t think it will. It took five hundred rounds to take down all four men, and I still had approximately 4,500 rounds left in the drum. The second group of men could see what happened to the first better than I could, and that gave them a second of hesitation. I fired a second swarm of flechettes and they collapsed as well.

I immediately inspected the bodies and found that three of them were still alive. Those who survived had the skin almost completely flayed from their faces. One man had his jaw snapped by what must have been a direct hit from a larger projectile. It hung from a single hinge. The dead man had a puncture wound in the center of his forehead, right above the sophisticated visor across his eyes. Their visors, as expected, were scratched, dented, and cracked, but were not penetrated by the flechette rounds. My recommendation is that this weapon should not be used against heavily armoured targets. Its ability to incapacitate organic targets may be considered valuable, but as I said, only one of the four targets died immediately from his wounds. The other three technically survived, but only as screaming, drooling ghouls of raw meat and exposed bone.

Oops, I said I would keep it clinical. I was doing so well, too. In truth, sir, there is no clinical way to describe what this weapon does to exposed or lightly armoured flesh. I have burned men to death. It is slow and it is agonizing, but it is merciful compared to the fate these men suffered. They would have lived for hours, possibly longer, with melted skin and shattered bones, able only to scream and paw at the grass until infection or blood loss or shock might take them. I did them a favor and shot them all in the head with my sidearm.

That was when I made my first startling discovery. Apart from their visors and Kevlar, these men were each equipped with a brand new CF-14 assault rifle. Not a Federation knockoff. Our own patented, homegrown machine gun. Not only could these men see through my opticamo and locate me at the bottom of an unmarked ditch, but they were packing Minervan hardware as well. More on this later.

I found the fifth assailant near my tent, trying pitifully to hobble away. His right arm hung limp and he clutched his CF-14 awkwardly in his left hand. When he heard me rustling through the grass, he whipped around, hugging the rifle to his hip. The entire right side of his body was cratered with white phosphorus burns.

“Let’s not push our luck now, eh?” I said. “Drop the gun.”

The man did not move, but I could hear him whimpering and breathing heavily in the dark.

“You know who I am, so you know I could kill you with but a thought. Drop the gun.”

“You are not a witch,” he said in Russian. “You are just a woman. We found your tent.”

“And see how well that worked out for you. Drop the gun.”

His visor was a matte black, but I suspect that behind the lens he was eyeing Tom Fury. In flechette mode, the oversized barrel does cut an imposing figure, even if it does remind me of a hi-tech leafblower in more ways than one. The muzzle of his CF-14 dipped, then the gun fell from his fingers.

“Good boy,” I said, pouncing on him and knocking him onto his back. I pressed the heel of my foot into his throat. “Now what are you doing with those rifles?”

He could only gargle in response, so I eased up a bit. “New equipment. Given by Commissar Petrov.”

“And Commissar Petrov sent you after me, did he?”

“Yes.”

“Where’d he get the rifles?”

“I don’t know. Council of Warfare?”

I took my foot off his throat and jammed it into the bright red burn across his right arm. He howled like a dying wolf.

“Do you know what this is?” I asked, twisting his head so that he could see the assault rifle lying next to him. “Chandra Firelli 14 Modular Assault Rifle. Should be science fiction to your councils. Now I know you’re not just a mindless grunt, so stop pretending. Where did you get them?”

“He says,” the man gasped, trying desperately to speak between whimpers. “He says gift. From our new friend. That’s all he says. I swear.”

I was starting to get a tightness in my gut. “A gift is something you get for free, and these aren’t the sorts of things you just give out. What did your new friend want from you in return?”

“To kill the Dust Witch.”

The tightness suddenly closed in. I could hardly breathe. Sir, I can only speculate, and feel free to offer an alternative explanation, but when I hear that someone is supplying our enemies with Minervan hardware and asking them to hunt me down, only one name pops up in my head.

Okane. He’s alive.

Who else would have the means to smuggle Minervan arms to the Federation? Who else would want to support our enemies? Who else would want them to kill me specifically, and who else would get so damned close to succeeding?

We know he still has supporters within Minerva. Just because they’ve gone dark doesn’t mean they don’t exist. And his body was never recovered. He most likely would have fled to the north, toward the Federation. It’s been four years since we drove out the Family. Plenty of time for him to rebuild his forces and come back at us for revenge, if nothing else.

I needed to know for certain. I thanked the Federation assassin for his time and shot him in the head. Since my AUV was totaled, I found the jeep that the NRF assassins had used and loaded up my equipment, including the rifles and visors that my assailants had used. Forensics might be able to tell us who passed them along to the NRF. I spent the day hopping from town to town, inquiring about a former Minervan general in the area, or at the very least, any new warlords on the rise. My methods were a bit more aggressive than they have been, and they yielded proportionately better results.

One man, cornered in an alley by a glowing-eyed ghost, admitted to trading with a new mercenary band on the border of Federation territory. He didn’t know anything about their leader, but he said that some of them wore armour much like mine, though in very poor condition. They first appeared several years ago, and now they occupy an abandoned airfield.

I took the liberty of piggybacking on an Oculus satellite and I found an airfield about three hundred kilometres from town. Used to be called Semey before the war. I’ve decided to investigate. Whether it’s Okane or not, I need to find out who is passing out CF-14s and advanced tracking visors to our enemies, and pursuing men in Aegis armour is the best place to start. I traveled as far as I could today, but as you can imagine, I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I’m going to have a quick lie down before I reach the airfield. If you have any further information to share, please do so. I start my reconnaissance of the airfield at 1600 tomorrow.

And don’t worry, I’ve pitched my tent on higher ground tonight.

 

END REPORT

 

>REPLY

SENT 190110EFEB04

 

Sorry to hear about your rude awakening this morning, Agent Nightshade. Currently investigating the CF-14s in the hands of the Russians. Glaucus is telling me those visors you described are prototypes from our own labs, codename FALCON. This constitutes a major breach. Precision of their strike also suggests Oculus satellite data was used to track you. Find aerial cover if you can.

As for the flechette cannon, I will pass on your report to the team. I agree that lethality is a huge issue. This weapon would have been considered a war crime in the old world. Remember that the primary function of the attachment is to recycle metals in the field for a renewable ammunition supply. Please test this function as soon as possible. If viable, research must continue, though I will personally ensure that the lethality of the flechettes is improved.

I will require daily reports until this situation is resolved. Putting other agents in the area on standby. Proceed at your own discretion, but do not hesitate to request backup. Will update as investigation yields results.

 

Hmm, those flechettes, and the NRF, I wonder… I think Nightshade is going to be very useful when we get to tracking down the deathbot makers.

 

Words by:

SteelSalvation2

Art by:

Vanguard

  • Honza Prchal

    Semipalatinsk test site. Oh my.

    • Kind of funny that it would probably be LESS irradiated than most places on Earth by the time this story takes place. But I’m not a science guy, so maybe the difference in radioactive decay is barely noticeable.

      • Honza Prchal

        Well … the town nearby may have been targeted, so despite the relatively short half-lives of many nuclear blast residues, it could have been hit again.
        And the blast centres would remain pretty rad, man.

        • Good thing Glaucus developed some radioactive residue sequestration technologies after the Winter, eh?

          Yay unobtanium sci-fi magic saving the day! ;)

          But seriously, they did engineered microbes to sequester and stabilize radioactive isotopes for collection and disposal, and that doesn’t even feel TOO made up to me given my knowledge of microbiology and whatnot XD

          • Honza Prchal

            You’re pretty sharp, Daniel. Imagine how long I’ve been waiting to say that and pity me.

          • You only get 1 Sharp pun before the downvotes begin ;P

          • Matt [in Middletown]

            The Pun Police, administered by Chief Deathbot.

          • Honza Prchal

            We
            re in trouble, Matt. Loved the glowing line.

          • Matt [in Middletown]

            Well, I didn’t really want to make light of it.

          • Honza Prchal

            One of the first MTV videos was “Dog Police”. It’s rather terrible.

          • Matt [in Middletown]
          • Honza Prchal

            You know, I’ve read every single book save one, and all the short stories save one, in Sharpe’s Rifles. I’ve not seen the show by the Beeb yet, but … well … it’s totally up your alley. Also available in some really first rate audiobooks.

          • Matt [in Middletown]

            Radiodurans may be useful for this as a starting point.

    • Matt [in Middletown]

      It’s beautiful this time of year, I hear.
      Positively glowing.

  • Matthew Bird

    I finally found time to catch up on all of the Nightshade lore, and I love it. Very good stuff and a great parallel to the illustrated story.